CRISPR Therapeutics raises a $56M IPO, but patent battles, potential stock drops loom

And then there were three: After Editas ($EDIT) and Intellia ($NTLA) went public this year, CRISPR has brought up the rear with its IPO. But the biotech will need to gear up for a tough market that has seen its rivals’ stock fall hard in the intervening months, and the ongoing patent saga on who “owns” the gene editing tech.

Switzerland and Cambridge, MA-based CRISPR Therapeutics priced its IPO at $14 a pop for 4 million shares, bringing home $56 million. This is less than the $94.4 million raised by Editas in February and the $108 million from Intellia Therapeutics in May.

Bayer, however, did buy 2.5 million shares itself at $14, bumping up another $35 million to the biotech, which will trade on the Nasdaq this week under the ticker $CRSP.

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The biotech booked around $2 million in sales for the year ending June 30, 2016, although it made an operating loss of nearly $30 million in the first half of 2016.

It has already set up a JV with Bayer to create CRISPR spinoff Casebia Therapeutics as well as a collab with Vertex Pharmaceuticals ($VRTX). Bayer’s venture arm, before the offering, owned around 8% of the biotech, with Celgene ($CELG) and Glaxo’s ($GSK) venture businesses owning 12.4% and 9.7% respectively.

Caribou Biosciences, which raised $30 million in a Series B financing round back in May, remains one of the last big CRISPR biotechs to not go public.

CRISPR science has generated a lot of interest from the media over the past two years with noises increasingly linking it to potential “cures” for conditions such as sickle cell disease and a new, potentially better way of fighting certain cancers.

While this tech hasn’t yet entered into the lab for in-human testing, American academic researchers are in a race with Chinese scientists to be the first to start--with the world’s first-ever test earmarked to begin before the end of the year. Of the publicly traded gene editing biotechs, Editas still appears to be in the lead for its first Phase I.

There are however still lingering questions over who owns the patents to these technologies and how, should this change, it will impact those biotechs who have signed up to use these tools.

There is also the bigger question over the value of going public, especially when the science is at such an early stage and human trials some way off for many, with a proof of concept needed for greater confidence in the field.

In talks with FierceBiotech, a number of smaller biotech CEOs have questioned the value of an IPO and/or a Big Pharma partner deal (of which CRISPR now has both), arguing that this can strip away value and leave the need for well-funded science languishing behind the needs of shareholders.

Editas and Intellia have already struggled over the past few months. Editas has been on a downward trend since the summer--and even though it closed more than 4% up yesterday, its shares were under $14, less than its IPO, and way down from its 52-week high of $43.99. Yesterday, it had a market cap of just less than $500 million.

It's been a similar story for Intellia, which ended the day down nearly 3% yesterday, with its shares at around $12--more than half its 52-week high of $30.40. Its market cap is just $416 million.

In its recent SEC filing for its IPO, the 77 employee-strong CRISPR said it was pursuing a “two-pronged product development strategy” using both ex vivo and in vivo approaches.

“Our most advanced programs in hemoglobinopathies use an ex vivo approach, whereby cells are harvested from a patient, treated with a CRISPR-Cas9-based therapeutic and reintroduced into the patient.

“Beyond these lead programs, we are pursuing a number of additional ex vivo applications, as well as select in vivo applications whereby the CRISPR-Cas9 therapeutic is delivered directly to target cells within the human body. Our initial in vivo applications will leverage well-established delivery technologies for gene-based therapeutics.”

It is also working on programs independently, including in immuno-oncology using ex vivo and various gene editing approaches, as well as an in vivo disruption approach to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.